Neglected diseases

River blindness

“Our vision is to improve the quality of life and the health of people suffering from neglected diseases.”
Dr. Bernard Pécoul, Executive Director of DNDi – Drugs for Neglected Diseases initiative Switzerland

Blindness caused by a worm

One of the most neglected tropical diseases is “river blindness”, a parasitic disease caused by a filarial worm transmitted by repeated bites of infected blackflies. These blackflies breed in fast-flowing rivers and streams, mostly in remote villages located near fertile land where people rely on agriculture. River blindness is the world’s second leading infectious cause of blindness.

The currently available drugs against river blindness are only effective against the parasites' microfilariae, i.e. larvae and young worms. However, the adult worms survive until the end of their natural lifespan and produce more and more new generations of offspring.

An antiparasitic as new option

The compound emodepside, by contrast, is a macrofilaricide which also kills the adult nematodes. The active substance has already proved its worth in veterinary medicine. Bayer's Animal Health Division has been offering the antiparasitic agent since 2005 in various combinations of active ingredients for combating worms in domestic animals. Emodepside originates from the Japanese pharmaceutical company Astellas and has been developed by Bayer’s Animal Health division for veterinary use. Preclinical studies have shown that the active substance effectively kills the nematodes responsible for river blindness. Astellas has granted Bayer the rights to develop emodepside along these lines.

New product development partnership

This could significantly shorten the duration of treatment, which would mean significant progress in the long-term fight against river blindness. A shorter treatment period would reduce the pressure not only on the affected patients, but also on the local healthcare systems. The drug would be suitable not only for mass treatment, but also for individual therapy.

As a result we were happy to sign an agreement with DNDi (Drugs for Neglected Diseases initiative) – an independent, not-for-profit organization working to develop and introduce new drugs and therapies for the most neglected diseases – to work together on a new treatment option for river blindness.

A corresponding collaboration agreement on the development and supply of the antiparasitic agent emodepside was signed on December 9, 2014. Emodepside could signal progress in the fight against river blindness, primarily by shortening the therapy period.

For Bayer the cooperation with the DNDi in the fight against river blindness builds upon a long-standing commitment against neglected tropical diseases. The two partners can already look back on a joint success story: Bayer contributed via drug donation to the nifurtimox-eflornithin combination therapy NECT for African sleeping sickness, which was developed by DNDi and partners. NECT is now on the WHO's List of Essential Medicines.